Reigning Walter Payton Award winner Cole Kelley of Southeastern Louisiana will face stiff competition this fall in the race for the Heisman of the FCS.
Kelley led a preseason watch list of 35 players that was announced on Wednesday for the 2021 Payton, which Stats Perform presents to the national offensive player of the year in college football’s Division I subdivision.
The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Kelley was at or near the top of the FCS in a number of statistical categories, including a No. 1 ranking in passing yards and total touchdowns, when he received the Payton following the FCS spring season.
Runner-up Eric Barriere of Eastern Washington and third-place finisher Julius Chestnut of Sacred Heart also are part of the impressive preseason watch list, which is as follows:
Eric Barriere, Eastern Washington (2019 and 2020-21 finalist)
Juwan Carter, Norfolk State
Jack Cook, Dayton
Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State (2019 finalist)
Tim DeMorat, Fordham (2020-21 finalist)
Draylen Ellis, Austin Peay
Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M (2020-21 finalist)
Felix Harper, Alcorn State (2019 finalist)
Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana (2020-21 recipient)
E.J. Perry, Brown
Eric Schmid, Sam Houston
Breylin Smith, Central Arkansas
Daniel Smith, Villanova (2019 finalist)
Cameron Ward, UIW
Liam Welch, Samford (2020-21 finalist)
Percy Agyei-Obese, James Madison (2020-21 finalist)
Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart (2019 and 2020-21 finalist)
Josh Davis, Weber State
Elijah Dotson, Sacramento State
Juwon Farri, Monmouth (2020-21 finalist)
Geno Hess, Southeast Missouri
Quay Holmes, ETSU (2020-21 finalist)
Dejoun Lee, Delaware (2020-21 finalist)
Jah-Maine Martin,North Carolina A&T (2019 finalist)
Karl Mofor, Albany
Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State (2020-21 finalist)
Otis Weah, North Dakota (2020-21 finalist)
Devin Wynn, Furman
Samuel Akem, Montana
Avante Cox, Southern Illinois
Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls
Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston
Jakob Herres, VMI (2020-21 finalist)
Tyler Hudson, Central Arkansas (2020-21 finalist)
Christian Watson, North Dakota State
More players can join the watch list during the regular season, and a national media panel will select the winner following it. First awarded in 1987, the Payton has watched past winners such as Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Brian Westbrook, Jimmy Garoppolo, Cooper Kupp and Trey Lance move on to the NFL.
Also this season, Stats Perform will present the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year), Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) and Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year.